Chapter Nine   April, 2004 (More or Less)

 

Let's see.  Where did we leave off?  

London was great.  We walked and walked and walked.  I think we surprised Bernard, and that was the whole idea of it.  The Birthday Dinner at Hoare's Bank was smashing.  Wow!  Such a bank!  Henry and Caromy Hoare are perfect hosts, and gave us a most interesting "tour" of the bank after dinner (which was out of this world).  Hoare's Bank has been in the family - yes, it is a private bank, the last in London - since 1637 or thereabouts.  The family used to reside regularly on the upper floors, with the offices taking the ground floor.  Now the bank uses both the ground floor and the second for offices, and the family uses the first and third for living quarters when they are in town. 

Bernard's dinner was served in the first floor dining room, which is quite grand.  We didn't take any photos, not wanting to "intrude" on the festivities. Bernard seemed quite taken by surprise, even though Judy did arrange rather unusual transportation to the event.

[photo] 

We were then able to spend a couple of days roaming around London with B&J, which was the treat we were looking for.  Thursday evening we were graciously included in the guest list for the publication party of "Sharpe's Escape", the 20th in the Richard Sharpe series.  Twenty books!  Imagine that.  The party was held at the top of Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, and the views from up there were quite impressive.  Our favorite was being able to look down right into the Queen's Tennis Court at Buckingham Palace. (But H.M. must have just retired for the evening.  Darn!)  

Returning to Antigua was a strange experience for us.  Here we were, surrounded by pale-faced Englishmen

and -women on their way to holiday in the sun.  And we were merely returning to our life on the water (OK!  "In the Sun", also).  The weather is getting hot in Antigua this time of year, and we found we had to take an afternoon swim just to cool off.  We dinghied over to the nearby beach, and splashed and bathed.  It was wonderful; we wondered why we hadn't been doing this for months.

After preparing for a few days, we sailed overnight to St. Barts, where we stayed a couple of days.  We didn't do very much, just walked the town and went to the beach to swim and hunt for shells.  The beaches on the French Islands, including St. Barts, are generally topless, so you're apt to see something like this.  

The beach we went to was noted for its shells.  We picked up bunches for John's grandson, Ian.  

The motor over to Virgin Gorda was the most still we have encountered.  The sea was just like glass.  No kidding.  I've seen swimming pools rougher than that sea.  The 101-mile trip passed without event, and we made landfall at dawn, just as we'd planned.  Sister-in-law Julie Martin has a cousin who's been building a home on Virgin Gorda for a number of years, and we'd hoped to run him down to see how he's making out.  As it turned out, HE ran US down, finding us in the laundromat at the marina.  We spent two fabulous days with Alan, admiring his creation and chatting away like long-lost friends.  He had, indeed, created something very special.  The house is somewhat unconventional in construction (it's made of concrete sprayed on a steel and wire framework), but the effect is stunning.  I'll only include a few of the photos we took, hoping they'll give you an idea of what this beautiful home is about.  

Now it was decision time.  Should we retrace our steps, and sail back north following our trip south, or should we head offshore and do the whole 1200 miles at one gulp?  We decided on the latter, and are glad we did.  At 5 knots, we should be able to average 120 miles a day, so the trip should take 10 days.  It actually took 9.  We were blessed with generally good weather; a bit of wind, and a bit of calm, and made very good time.

Most important, though, was what we learned about ourselves, both physically and mentally.  We both suffered from a queasy stomach for the first couple of days, and we learned how to make allowances and adjust watchschedules to each other's needs.  We also had a few days of pretty challenging winds.  Not storms, just heavierthan forecast, and more in front of us than "normal".  We got wet, and stayed wet.  It was wet outside the boat on watch, and wet inside the boat when we were trying to sleep.  Everything took on a soggy feel, including our skin. 

And we coped.  When the waves became especially high - six to eight feet with another wind-driven wave of two to four feet on top was the norm for about three days - water came flooding in everywhere.  But we coped. When the wind dropped to zero, and the sun beat down, and we thought we'd die of boredom, we coped.  We learned to work together like never before, and were quite happy about the results.

Sharon really impressed me with her strength and resolve.  She was miserable at times, but she always bounced back.  She is one tough cookie, I can tell you that.

Our next challenge will be the Atlantic crossing.  That trip is made up of three segments:  USA to Bermuda, Bermuda to the Azores, and Azores to Portugal.  The first and third legs are less than 1,000 miles each, and the middle leg is about 1,800.  With the experience we gained on this last 1200-mile sail, we feel confident we can handle this ambitious task.  We're learning how to cook underway, what tastes good and what doesn't.  We're learning how to sleep when each of us is on watch 12 hours out of 24, day after day.  And other little things too numerous to mention.  We're also learning how to manage being so very close together, 24 hours a day, day after day.  Many couples would be snarling at each other within a day of this sort of "togetherness", but we found we thrive on it, once we got some of the kinks out of the way.

So, we're here in St. Augustine.  Again.  We're getting ready for our annual haul-out.  We'll service some of the underwater gear, paint the bottom to protect against barnacles, and refresh the topsides.  We've spent the last two days going from hardware store to hardware store to marine store to specialty fastener shop to marine store.  We've now assembled most of what we'll need to go the work, and are getting ready to sail up to St. Mary's, Georgia to be hauled out of the water on Monday.

Next chapter we'll tell you about the crossing.

A Bientot!